Monday, January 26, 2015

rock fights

So to be completely frank, if this terrific win streak must come to an end at some point, I'd prefer just about anywhere but Blacksburg.  So it was with a little trepidation that I watched the Hokies take a ten-point lead in front of a Cassell Coliseum crowd that wasn't precisely packed to the gills, but was a lot fuller and louder than it's been for most of the season.

This is normally the point where you'd think "but that didn't last for long," but truth is it did.  Various reports of the game call it a rally.  Nothing of the sort happened.  A rally implies a flurry of activity, a swift change in fortunes.  The Hoos just stopped letting VT score, is all.  VT stopped hitting shots they'd been hitting, they went back to giving the ball away a few times (like they'd done in the first half) and a glacial eight minutes after VT was up ten, the lead finally disappeared completely.  There was no Cavalanche, just a big, 11-minute stop on defense and a fun play or two along the way.

It illustrates a philosophy of Tony's completely: you better play defense if you hope to come back from a deficit.  Offense will happen if you don't panic, but you sure as hell ain't closing that gap if the other guys keep scoring.

So the march continues.  One imagines it'll stop in the next couple weeks.  Four very difficult matchups present themselves: Duke and Louisville roll into town, and the Hoos make two trips to the Triangle for UNC and NC State.  KenPom says the UNC game is the toughest left on the schedule, being as it's on the road; I think it's the two home games that are the toughest matchups on paper, but the Hoos have been playing much better at home of late than on the road.  Georgia Tech was mercilessly ground into powder because UVA had a home crowd behind them and the Jackets are pitiful shooters from outside four feet.

No league has as many legitimate national title contenders as the ACC, and UVA's schedule is the streakiest of any of them, so it might be fair to say these next couple weeks will be the longest, toughest stretch faced by any of the country's best teams.  Even in the Big 12, which is looking a little like the ACC used to, 15 years ago.  ESPN's Dana O'Neil did a rather awkwardly-premised article that boils down to "ACC and Big 12 teams will beat each other up and most of the rest of the country will coast."**   If that goose egg comes out the other end unscathed, the hype machine is going all the way to 11.

**I thoroughly love the characterization of UVA as a "veteran team that actually likes games to be rock fights."  That's a good identity.  All we need now is a recruit who's been called "Psycho T Junior" and a Kiwi kid who thinks it's rugby.  Where can we find guys like that, I wonder.

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-- Malcolm Brogdon had a fantastic little layup against Georgia Tech where he decided on a change of plan midair.  It was a damn familiar-looking play:



Even more similar in motion, in fact.  Except for the finish.

(Yes, I'm gonna let you stew on it if you're drawing a blank on the bottom play.)

-- Buzz Williams is amusingly demonstrative, yes, but as much as he was on the case of the refs, I'm wondering if he realizes offensive fouls do exist in the rulebook.

-- Buzz is likely going to turn VT into a not-laughingstock, maybe even do what Seth Greenberg only ever did once, and get them to the tourney.  He might not even leave for so-called greener pastures; Whit Babcock appears to actually mind being a basketball backwater, and will give him an ACC contract with an ACC budget for assistants and upgrade his buildings to ACC-quality facilities.  Even seeing that is worth it, because of the gift of Marial Shayok, who looks like the future of UVA ball.  He's got the scoring versatility that sometimes takes years to develop.

-- Speaking of developed scoring ability, man it would've been cool if Darion Atkins hadn't had shin splints that set his development back light years.  The guy wearing #5 now for UVA is the guy that Tony Bennett and Mike Brey fought a pitched recruiting battle over, back in 2010.  There are some faint similarities to Mike Scott showing through, the way he likes to operate on offense in a range ring around the net, the way he sometimes says, "ok, you want me to shoot this, I'll shoot it," and knocks it right down.  Senior year has been incredibly good to Atkins, there's no doubt about it.

-- GameDay notwithstanding, I'd rather play Duke this Wednesday, all things considered.  Coming off an emotional win and heading on the road, from an intangibles perspective there are few riper upsets than Notre Dame over Duke this week.  I think they'll get a cold-water reality check in South Bend, and I'd rather be the team giving it to them than the team right after.

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-- North Carolina and Wake Forest are charter members of the ACC, and have shared a conference since 1936 when Wake joined the Southern Conference.  It's about an hour and a half drive between the two schools.  They first met in football in 1888 and have played 105 games against each other.  That meeting in 1888 was the first college football game in the state of North Carolina.  So it makes perfect sense that they'd want to play each other more than once every goddam seven years.  Nice college football world you've delivered us, O oligarchs of the sport.  Throw bread and circuses at the drooling masses in the form of a playoff thing, and meantime make sure you set everything else up to make the least sense possible.

Of course, I don't gripe without offering a solution (much) and I've already put forth a great idea to fix the problem.  The best idea.

-- It was interesting to read about WR transfer T.J. Thorpe in this Jeff White article; coming to UVA was already on his mind (and leaving UNC was already decided) even as he was catching the game-winning touchdown against in October.  That kind of thing is probably more common than is ever reported, especially in basketball, but it's rarely admitted.

-- Lacrosse season is here sooner than you think, so it's a good time to loosen up for it by starting with opinionz on the newest rule changes:

* Faceoff rule changes: They'll be just about transparent to the vast majority of everyone watching the game.  Former FOGO guys might get interviewed by Inside Lacrosse or something, and air their gripes or praises, but nobody else will see a difference.  Cleaning up faceoff play is generally always welcome, but most of the time when a faceoff violation is called, nobody ever sees what happened anyway.  This won't change anything.

* Timeout changes: If the ball is to be restarted from inside the field of play, such as on an offside call, only the team with the ball can call timeout.  Nobody really was complaining about that, but it's a small positive tweak nonetheless.

* Phase-in of a requirement to have a 30-second shot clock displayed for when stall warnings are given out; previously, the refs kept the time themselves and the players were left to guess.  I emphatically don't want a shot clock in lacrosse, but "some schools can't afford them" was always one of the lamest arguments against them.  Spend a couple hundred dollars, man.  Not having the clock on the field was like having basketball's block-charge arc in the rulebook but not on the court, and the same bullshit poverty reason was given for not painting them on.  This is both a positive step for the rules as they're written now, and a huge negative step in that it smells strongly of a precursor to having the full-time shot clock instituted for good.

* You can now land in the crease after scoring, provided you didn't leave your feet before you shot.  Fine, good, dandy, because invariably you'd see about three to five perfectly good goals a year called back for that, and they shouldn't be.  Good compromise between not letting people just launch themselves and not forcing them to make like the Flying Wallendas around the crease.

* Addition of an over-and-back rule.  Used to be they'd either require you to go through the clearing clock again, or put on a stall warning if you were just being stubborn about sitting on the ball.  Now you lose the ball right away, like in basketball, and this is suddenly a really dangerous thing to do because it's a quick restart and the ball is already in your defensive half with a wide-open field to play with.

* Last year for these jerseys, because in 2016 your numbers will have to contrast.  Never liked those.

-- With a big basketball game this Saturday and lacrosse and baseball fast approaching, I feel a few midweek posts coming on.

Monday, January 19, 2015

recruiting reform

Basketball is settling into a calm-before-the-storm stretch of the season, with four of the ACC's worst teams on the slate before a three-game Season-Defining Stretch that's looking more like a tough four-game run when you tack on a trip to Raleigh to the end of it.  Efficiently grinding a couple bad teams into the floor is fun in its own not-stressful way, but it makes for a minimum of writeable moments.  Instead, I think I'll react to some of the news trickling out of the NCAA's decision-making echelons.

Specifically, the fact that a football early signing period appears to be all but done at this point.  This "formally recommended" thing is a formality; the discussions have all taken place by now and they're almost dead certain to do it.  Stupid.  This is happening for two reasons: one, the NCAA has the creativity of earthworms and thinks it has only one tool in the box.  And two, coaches are eager to do anything they can to exert more control over the process, which is another way of saying take some control out of the hands of the recruits.

Early signing periods - championed by some because they would supposedly let recruits stop being bombarded with mail and social media messages - do a great job of taking control out of their hands instead.  A recruit would no longer be able to:

-- Switch schools because the head coach got fired
-- Switch schools because he doesn't like the new head coach
-- Switch schools because a favorite assistant landed a promotion elsewhere (Chris Beatty being the perfect example here)
-- Switch schools because a school he wanted an offer from, hired a new head coach willing to give him one
-- Switch schools because he blew up his senior year

The one saving grace is the December 16 date.  The ACC wanted August 1, which was beyond stupid.  The SEC wanted the Monday after Thanksgiving, which still doesn't help.  Most coaches who'll be fired, are fired before December 16, so at least that part of carousel season won't affect recruits.  I always go back to the story of Roy Roundtree, though.  Roundtree spent a year openly pining for an offer from Michigan and not getting one.  He committed to Purdue when it looked like he'd never get the Michigan offer.  When Lloyd Carr retired and Rich Rodriguez was hired, Rodriguez decided that Roundtree was a terrific fit in his offense and flipped Roundtree in February.  Roundtree would never have gotten his dream-school offer if an early signing period had existed.

Oh, I suppose you could say that Roundtree shouldn't sign early, then.  Human beings at that age have brain chemistry that prevents them foreseeing that driving 110 miles an hour is going to end with their car wrapped around a tree, but they should foresee that a coach will retire and the new one will give them an offer.  Right.  Here is the conversation that every football coach will have with all their committed players: "Sign early or you're not committed and we'll recruit around you."  It's that control thing.  No recruit is going to risk their spot in the class by not signing early - and thus, as in basketball, the "early signing period" will become "the signing period."  How much football recruiting goes on between December and February?  Tons.  How much basketball recruiting goes on between the early period and the regular period?  Zip.

Let's say you need to mount a picture to your wall with a couple screws.  That represents the problem of recruiting reform.  The NCAA has decided to use a baseball bat to pound the screws in.  Good choice of tool.  Maybe the picture can cover up the huge new holes in the drywall.  I have some better ideas.  All of them should be implemented yesterday.

Letters of intent

Ah, the LOI.  Occasionally maligned, and not without reason: the LOI binds the player to the school, but is much less binding on the school itself.  As Les Miles has proven, you can sign an LOI and still show up on campus in the fall and be told you're not on the team right now because oops we oversigned.  (Asshole.)  You'll need to move out of that dorm room.  See you in January.

There need to be some fixes to this thing, first and foremost.  It's a contract, basically, and it doesn't always work.

-- Fortunately, the Power 5 conferences have just passed mandatory four-year scholarships.  Signing the LOI in February should also require that those scholarships begin in the school's next academic semester.

-- And since we're going to be stuck with this early signing period, there should also be some changes to the early-signed LOIs: specifically, the recruit should get to specify an assistant coach, who, along with the head coach, is required to still be employed by the school on the regular NLOI day.  If either leave or are fired, the LOI is dissolved and the player has the option to look around.  He can, of course, stick with it and sign the regular LOI in February.

I'd offer some fixes that help the schools, too, but they're not necessary - the LOI is so airtight and binding on the player that there's a real good reason the coaches are drooling at the idea of getting their recruits tied up with them as early as possible.

Centralize the process

One supposed advantage of an early signing period is it would save recruits the hassle of dealing with a flood of communication when they're already committed.  Well, for a month and a half, I guess, with this solution.  But this is exactly what I mean by using a baseball bat to pound a nail.  Sure, if a recruit knows where he's going in June and doesn't want to deal with the process after that, it makes sense for him to be able to shut it down entirely.

So set up an NCAA clearinghouse to keep track of all these verbal commitments.  Allow a recruit, starting the day the signing period ends during his junior year, to register a verbal commitment with the clearinghouse.  Doing so then means the school he's committed to can have unlimited contact with him, and other schools none at all.  No letters, no emails, no Facebook or Twitter shout-outs, nothing, unless they can show it was initiated by the recruit (which he'd be allowed to do.)  They can visit on the high school campus, and that'd be the extent of what they can do (it'd be hard to prevent contact at the high school, because there's no reason coaches shouldn't be able to recruit other players on the team.)

Illegal contact would be a secondary violation; repeated contact a major one.  The NCAA would have to rely on the player to report it, but that's fine; the idea is to prevent the player from being harassed, and if he doesn't really mind, what can you really do?  You'd have to think coaches would really like this too.  They'd have theoretical peace of mind, knowing that there isn't some annoying slimy weasel trying to get in the good graces of their recruits.

And of course, registering a verbal commitment would be totally rescindable.  By the player.  Not the school.

Written offers

The NCAA forbids written offers until after September 1 of the player's senior year.  This had the commendable goal of trying to stem the tide of earlier and earlier recruiting, but predictably was a huge failure.  The old date was August 1 of junior year.  Somewhere in the middle would be best - like, the same date mentioned above for registering a commitment.  I'm all about trying to keep recruiting out of middle school, but it's probably best not to have players not truly knowing where they stand.  Sometimes an offer isn't really an offer.

Better would be for offers to be able to be sent out February of junior year, and requiring the school to make good on them once sent.  Formalize the language so that it's the same for every school, or rather, write a special legalistic paragraph that must be included.  That paragraph would say something to the effect of this is a formal NCAA-approved offer of grant-in-aid for the period 2015 to 2019 to play football at University of Whatever contingent on you being academically eligible and not being a shithead and getting arrested bla bla bla and would mark the letter as official and binding on the school, if the player accepts.  The recruit wouldn't be allowed to formalize a commitment with the clearinghouse without this letter in hand, but schools wouldn't be able to say "well we're offering you but we want to see you at camp or we want to see how this other guy shakes out first" or whatever.

And of course, once sent, a written offer wouldn't be rescindable unless a guy got arrested or something.

Official visits

This is another thing that's passed the NCAA by while they whistle in the dark.  These can't be taken until senior year begins; ostensibly, that's again to keep recruiting from starting too soon, but the reality of the thing is that the further south a school is, the more likely they are to fight to keep the status quo.  Southern schools, SEC ones in particular, want these visits to happen while it's cold and nasty up north and nice and pleasant down south.  Should they happen while it's nice and pleasant up north and disgustingly hot and humid down south, it might be slightly detrimental to SEC hegemony.

But it makes no damn sense to force a recruit to spend all his own money during the peak recruiting season.  Official visits are generally impractical in the fall because the recruits are busy playing football on the weekends.  Duh.  So they can't happen in the summer, don't happen in the fall, and as a result many recruits never even take one.  Extremely rare is the recruit that takes his limit of five.  Small wonder Mike London likes to line everyone up in January for one big official visit extravaganza.  Besides the fact that it does wonders for convincing a few remaining uncommitted recruits, it's just plain practical - and damn near required.

Let's face it: there's no reason not to have them in the summer.  And the limits need to be changed.  Instead of limiting the recruit, limit the schools.  Let the recruit take as many as he's offered.  I'm not real worried about abuse of that system; rare would be the player who just spends every weekend all summer on official visits.  Give the schools an allotment of, oh, say, 80 or 100 to hand out, and let them spend them as they please, as long as the recruit has finished the equivalent of five semesters of high school and, again, it's after the previous signing period is over.  Let them pay for kids to come to camp weekend if they choose.  And for players who've registered their verbal commitment, one free official that doesn't count against the school's limits.

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I don't think this quite addresses everything, because recruiting is still a little rough around the edges when it comes to trying to deal with academically iffy students, and I don't have any good ideas about that.  Obviously there's also the issue of bagmen to deal with, but I think a future post may have some things to work on that.  And the one really big question is: how to keep recruiting from working its way into freshman year?  Football is a bit self-limiting there, because most coaches are pretty versed in the ways of physical development of high schoolers, and there aren't a whole lot of them that look ready to go at age 15.  But still, if there are any measures that would actually work, I'd be all about them - it's just that everything the NCAA has tried has failed and I don't have any better suggestions except to say that formalizing the process into a clear and obvious one-year cycle might help.

I do think that an early signing period will accelerate the forward-creep quite a bit.  Coaches do a lot of their head-start work in December and January when they're not coaching a team and most of their class is sewn up.  They're dealing with not just juniors, but sophomores and even the occasional freshman.  But they can't zero in on the younger kids while the seniors are still technically not locked down yet and there's still work to do on that class.  Take away all that work they have to do on the senior class and they get a lot of time freed up for future classes.  So the NCAA is really not helping itself here.

But hopefully, this is something like 90% comprehensive here.  We've imposed some order on a chaotic process - sure to be appreciated by the coaches, even if most of what we've done here is to make the process more recruit-friendly.

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This doesn't take into account anything that's happened Monday or Tuesday, because that's for next week.  But here's the latest iteration of the ACC season sims:


At this juncture, KenPom is essentially guaranteeing a #1 seed.  And leaping into the driver's seat for 2nd place: UNC, which is rounding into form somewhat at the exact same time Duke took a couple helpful losses.  Personally I'm holding off on getting too excited until after the four-game stretch of doom, and if we come out of that in good shape, then......

Monday, January 12, 2015

pack-line rising

The week 9 AP rankings didn't change much from the week before.  The top 5 was static; you have to go to 13th before you find anyone who'd moved so much as three spaces, and 17th before you found anyone moving more than that (Iowa State dropped 8 spots for losing to South Carolina.)

That was last week.  This week is week 10.  And because there's nothing quite so humbling as the midwinter conference grind, and because the grind apparently got an early start this year, not a single team in the rankings is where they were last week.  Except Kentucky, and not even them exactly, because as the ESPN headline put it, "Virginia lands two of Kentucky's No.1 votes."  (And because the word "lands" is most often used in recruiting, my heart raced happily for just a quick split second until I finished reading it.)

Well, I'm happy anyway.  Somewhere out there are two writers who think UVA is the best team in the country.  Actually, I'll tell you exactly who: John Feinstein in DC and Zach Osterman of the Indy Star.  (And Marcus Jackson of the News-Gazette in Champaign, IL had the nerve to keep the Hoos in third behind UK and Gonzaga.  Boo this man.)  Osterman explained his vote in a column, which basically sums up as he weights recent results more heavily than most, and UK has been all about the overtime lately.  When the Blogpoll was a thing and I had a vote in it, recency mattered not even a speck (and it still wouldn't with me, resulting in a vote for UK), but it's also at least a little bit compelling to say, look, this is the ranking for this week, and this week, this is the team playing the very best basketball.

Further UVA awesominity: The Hoos are eight thousandths of a point out of first in the KenPom ranks, a gap small enough that it could disappear just by one of Kentucky's opponents having a bad game.  ESPN's Jeff Goodman asked various coaches who they like between UK, UVA, and Duke, and one asshole anonymous coach responded, "Kentucky over Virginia?  Please.  Talent level isn't even close.  Zero Virginia guys would start for Kentucky."  KenPom would disagree there, too; of his top ten players in the country, three are UVA's.  And three are Kentucky's.  Wait, no, recount: it's just two.  Hold on a sec, it's actually just one.  Oops, wrong again: the truth as of right now is that Kentucky has zero of the nation's KenPom-top-ten players.  UVA's so unathletic.

So the ascension continues.  How did this happen?  Exact same way the Hoos earned a pair of 1 seeds last year.  Choke yourself if you said "unbalanced schedule."  Taking care of business when other teams do not.  Top ten teams kept running into bug zappers this weekend.  Duke, Arizona, Wisconsin, Louisville - it was a top-ten bloodbath.  Kentucky was thisclose to being on that list.  UVA - well, it was close, too, but not, like overtime-close, and it was on the road, and the opponent was ranked, and so on and etc.  Give another round of applause to Mike Curtis, I'd say, but save the biggest cheer for Tony Bennett and his "play every game the same" mantra, because that's what you're seeing play out.

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-- In a strange way, I think I'm going to miss Karl Hess, exiled from ACC games as a result of saying something kinda dumb to a fan, but also, supposedly, "accumulated incidents."  I'd brush that last one aside as the ACC's attempt to leak something that put them less on the spot for the decision, if it were any ref but King Karl.  Hess made all his assignments a game of referee Russian roulette, but sports are less interesting with fewer villains to kick around.

-- I'm sure a lot of folks saw the study about referee bias that concluded ACC refs - football ones, not basketball - are biased toward home teams and "long-time conference members such as Duke and North Carolina."  I wonder if UVA is a "long-time conference member" in that context, or if you have to reside in the state of North Carolina.  At any rate, they picked the wrong sport.  I'm sure everyone loves to hear that the refs love Duke, but might raise an eyebrow about finding that it's a football study.  I'd like to see one for basketball - not that they haven't happened, as exampled by this one from a few years ago concluding that hoops refs do indeed favor home teams and call make-up fouls - but I don't know that anyone's really studied ACC hoops long-term.

-- Sort of a boilerplate article on UVA's 2016 commitment Kyle Guy, but one thing stuck out: "Interestingly, the 6-foot-2 Guy said he has been deluged with letters from Virginia Tech and Notre Dame since choosing Virginia."  Notre Dame, I kind of understand; Guy is from Indiana.  But I find it adorable that Buzz is of the opinion that Guy can be convinced to make that switch.

-- This week has been something of a microcosm of the football team's struggles.  Since 2015 began, UVA has lost three defensive ends: Max Valles to the NFL (ok, he's technically a linebacker, but still), and former commits Brandon Wilson and Rasool Clemons - the former to Indiana and the latter to the fact that he and academic qualification are a long way from becoming acquainted.  How have they been replaced?  With wide receivers!  Warren Craft is the latest commitment, yet another result of Mike London's incessant digging for unmolded instate athletes, and UVA also announced the incoming transfer of T.J. Thorpe from UNC (like, ten minutes after I hit "publish" last week.)  Actually, Thorpe, if healthy, does have the potential to add a bit of a different dimension to the offense, for one year at any rate.  Regardless, next year UVA will have eight wide receivers with some kind of on-field experience, and three such defensive ends.  Or, put another way, if London succeeds in landing Gary Jennings (who he's pursuing with all expedience and urgency) he'll have as many scholarship WRs on the roster as scholarship D-linemen.

-- Per Coaching Search, UVA is bringing back Dave Borbely to coach the offensive line.  Borbely was Al Groh's last O-line coach before his removal, and memory is hazy but I don't recall being unhappy with the job he was doing.  Borbely put a few linemen in the NFL, to be sure.  Maybe, if London pulls off the comeback of the ages and sticks around long term, Borbely can remind him that he used to have a few more players under his purview than he has now.

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I told you KenPom loves him some UVA, and the proof is in the season simulations:


That's UVA with a 91.8% chance to snag the top seed.  KenPom gives the Hoos a 95% chance or better in seven of the remaining fifteen games, and the toughest remaining game from this vantage point is the last one: the road match against Louisville, where UVA has a 60% chance of pulling out a win.  UVA also has an awfully significant chance of going undefeated: 12.3%.

That's what the math says, anyway.  Keep in mind the arbitrariness of the tiebreaker: UVA wins all ties against everyone for having the highest KenPom rating, because I don't have a way to make a spreadsheet remember who beat whom.  In the ten thousand different seasons that go into this, I doubt that 9,178 of them actually featured UVA beating Duke and earning that tiebreaker.  It's probably closer to 8,000, since KenPom is giving Duke a probably-too-low 20% chance of winning at the JPJ.  So take this with many grains of salt.  Even so, even if the simulator is more than 40 percentage points off and it's a coinflip as to whether UVA earns the #1 seed or not, that's still what you'd call "heavily favored."

You can find all three of the sims so far piled up at the original post.

Monday, January 5, 2015

let the games begin

PHEW.  I was planning on writing about four paragraphs on how this basketball team will lose at some point and we should enjoy this undefeated stuff to the fullest while it lasts but understand that it's coming to an end eventually and that's OK.  Miami drove home the point for me pretty well, though.

It's a lesson that now doesn't have to be learned the hard way, because UVA out-gutted and out-gunned the Hurricanes after Miami ran out of ammo.  I had forgotten, for a second there, that going on the road in the ACC is never to be taken for granted.  Shame.  Won't make that mistake again.  At least not this year.

For at least a little while longer, though, we still get to enjoy the goose egg in the one place you really want to see it.  It's not to be sneezed at; the Hoos survived on a night when half the remaining undefeated teams in the country took a loss.  That leaves just UVA, Duke, and Kentucky.  The SEC is a putz league, the weakest of the Power 5 and probably worse than the Big East as well, and very likely to leave UK unblemished for a good long time.  But I sort of hope Duke stays unbeaten til January 31 (and obviously, I hope we do too) to set up a matchup for the ages.

-- Marial Shayok deserves a ton of credit.  Forced into crunch-time minutes when Brogdon fouled out, his defense made a huge difference.  Not just in the two blocks that he had after that point; he also did a masterful job limiting Angel Rodriguez.  I suspect having much fresher legs had a lot to do with it; nevertheless, it was a huge game for him.  Perrantes and Anderson hit the shots and played 45 minutes apiece, and Atkins, very quietly, had a terrific game too.  But if defense comes first, Shayok gets the first nod.

-- Speaking of fresher legs, Mike Curtis certainly gets a nod for that game too.  "They look tired all of a sudden," I thought as Miami brought up the ball; the announcers were all over it at the same time.

-- One way to tell your team has arrived?  Besides all the other really obvious ones, I mean.  When the announcers assume you have a "senior-laden team" even when you don't.  Sorry, Shane Battier, only one senior here - but they sure do play like they were, don't they?

-- Yes, that was a foul on Justin Anderson at the end there.  But also, yes, he was fouled pretty blatantly in OT, too.  The announcers made a thing about him kicking his legs out, which was stupid because a flying defender landed on his arm.

-- Against Davidson, the defense gave up some easy layups, and on those plays it was perfectly highlighted why Tony's post defense philosophy is "ball-me-man."  The Wildcat post men managed to seal out their defender and prevent any help, which is poison to the pack-line defense; any time you see plays like that, the defender is out of position.  Most man defenses emphasize fighting for position in the post and having defenders try and prevent the opposing bigs from gaining position too close to the rim.  Tony doesn't much care where the opposing bigs post up - as long as the defenders are in the right position, they can deny entry passes, help on drives (and usually stop them before they start), switch to the other side to help a helper, and throw a quick double-team.

-- ESPN has been spreading the UVA love far and wide these past couple weeks.  Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson on the Wooden Watch.**  A #1 seed in bracketology.  Articles about how awesome the offense is and how the rest of the ACC will give UVA a run for its money.  Notice how that last one is not the other way around.  UVA is the hunted.

Why should we care what the WWL thinks?  Because perception is reality in the recruiting world.  The ultimate goal is not to be able to win the battle of the recruiting rankings (even though, for now, UVA sits atop the 24/7 rankings after winning the commitment of Sacha Killeya-Jones).  The ultimate goal is for Tony to be able to walk into any gym in the country, say, "I want that guy right there," and be at the top of that guy's list immediately.

That Medcalf article, by the way, the second one linked, I feel like it's part of a slightly disturbing trend, which is to forget that Louisville is a major contender just because they lost to Kentucky.  I would not like to see that team unleash its considerable athletic talent upon a perception of being disrespected.  It's not Duke and UVA and everyone else; it's Duke, UVA, Louisville, and maybe UNC if they get their shit together, and if they don't, Notre Dame.

**Unless someone else totally runs away with the award, Jahlil Okafor will win because he wears the tiebreaker on his chest.  But some All-American selections are not out of the question.

-- You know how I said we should drop Maryland from our schedules and add Georgetown just for spite, because Maryland won't play Georgetown?  Bwa-ha-ha the lacrosse schedulers listened.  Maryland is no more, and UVA will host the Hoyas as the final game of the season.

Actually, it's best looked at like this: Maryland is not replaced on the schedule.  There are only 13 games instead of last year's 14, but that's to be expected because the ACC was temporarily larger last year.  Georgetown - which hasn't been good at all lately - is Bellarmine's replacement, and UVA also dropped longtime OOC opponent Mount St. Mary's in favor of the recently-not-shitty St. Joseph's Hawks.  St. Joe's was once a laughingstock and is now very middle-of-the-road.  I'd still say, it's an easier schedule than last year, a bit.

That's OK, I still prefer to think we replaced Maryland with Georgetown, and if Georgetown had a football team of any consequence I'd start the Put-Them-In-The-ACC bandwagon in a hot minute.

-- One thing that will sting and make that road harder is the loss of Greg Danseglio to Maryland.  All the more reason to be glad they're gone, I suppose; Danseglio was half of a veteran long-pole duo that would've formed the core of the defense.  Now it's Tanner Scales and inexperience.  UVA also looks to be missing their one over-.500 face-off guy from last year, Mick Parks; knee surgery is the message-board chatter.  This is a very young team this year and the leading candidate to finish 5 of 5 in the ACC.

-- Speaking of which, sharp-eyed watchers noticed this earlier, I didn't but I think it's fair to be excused because I don't think the ACC even bothered to announce it - placing 5th of 5 in the conference this year earns you a trip to the tournament in Philly anyway, only you'll be playing Penn.  Creative.  And no doubt an easy sell to Penn - no travel expenses and an RPI-booster against an ACC team that you'll have a decent shot at beating.

-- I finally got off my ass and finished a game highlight, and there's another one on the way very shortly.  I randomly picked last year's Maryland game off the considerable backlog.  It's linked in the video library there.  I don't think that backlog will be fully addressed til the summer, but I'm settling into a routine of working on them and I can at least get you new stuff on a steady basis.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014's top ten

Here we are on New Year's Eve Eve.  Only one sporting event is left us for the year of 2014, and it's unlikely to produce anything truly epic, so it's a good time to join the rush of year-in-review junk and talk about the best of the year.  With the obvious implication that we hope 2015 can beat it senseless - although it'll be tough.

Honorable mention: Coholan gives UVA a win over Johns Hopkins; Justin Anderson's fingertip block against Pitt; UVA takes advantage of Louisville's dropped punt; every Cavalanche ever

#10 - Women's tennis wins first ACC title

We've been expecting the women's team to start filling the trophy case with hardware to match the men a little bit, and this was the year they broke through, winning the ACC title as the #3 seed.  On April 26 they beat second-seeded Miami in a 4-0 rout - the same team to whom they'd lost 5-2 just six days earlier.  The following day the championship was wrapped up, and women's tennis became the 20th Virginia program to claim an ACC title.

#9 - Malcolm Brogdon beats Pittsburgh with a three-pointer

I could make this entirely about basketball if I wanted.  There were plenty of those moments.  This was definitely one of the better ones.  The team, at the time, was 7-1 in the ACC, the lone blemish being a hard-fought loss at Duke, but we still couldn't be real sure what we had.  The Cavalanche was just becoming a thing, but UVA hadn't yet gone on the road and beaten a legitimate team.  Pitt was a legitimate team that played tough defense, and the game bogged down into trench warfare.  UVA spent most of the game trailing, ever so slightly, tied it with three minutes to go, and made a defensive stop with ten seconds left to keep it that way.  9.6 seconds later, Brogdon silenced the raucous arena, and UVA had a signature win that kept alive what ended up being a 13-game win streak.

#8 - 75-26

Holy.....

#7 - Women's soccer makes first national title game

OK, they didn't win it, but let's not let what didn't happen detract from what did.  The team was a regional 2 seed - one of the top 8 teams in the country - so their presence at the College Cup wasn't a complete surprise.  But they were the only non-#1 seed there, and they beat two #1 seeds to get there.  The win over Texas A&M in the semifinal was nice - well-played and mostly dominated by the Hoos - but it was the quarterfinal win over UCLA that was most impressive.  The Lady Hoos went to Los Angeles and snapped a 44-game unbeaten streak for the Bruins.

#6 - The triple-block

There's a lot of moments to choose from in that rematch against Pitt.  The ACC semifinal was just as hard-fought as the first game back in February.  I'd venture to say that the Panthers were the Hoos' worthiest ACC foe.  Nothing, though, sums up UVA's defense better than what happened when Pitt's Cameron Wright thought he had a layup lane.  He did, for a split second.  By the time he left his feet, it was gone, and Darion Atkins, Akil Mitchell, and Justin Anderson were flying in to reject it with more authority than any shot in basketball history has ever seen.

#5 - 15 innings against TCU

At the College World Series, UVA had had only one small hiccup along the way: a Game 1 loss in the super regionals to Maryland.  The Terps were summarily eliminated two days later, though.  After dispatching Ole Miss in a tough CWS opener, UVA faced TCU to try and stay out of the losers' bracket.  It turned into a 15-inning pitchers' battle, with a full nine scoreless innings in a row.  It was the longest game in CWS history.  UVA went down 1-2-3 in every inning after the 9th - until, of course, the last.  The TCU center fielder made a fantastic diving grab on Mike Papi; Brandon Downes threw out a TCU baserunner (on a hit and run!) at third base.  The game ended when UVA manufactured a run out of a Nate Irving double that broke the ice in the bottom of the 15th.  The win put UVA one more win from the CWS final, which they got against Ole Miss four days later.

#4 - Danielle Collins wins national title

A season of firsts for the women's tennis team?  Yup, and none greater than adding a national title to the list.  Collins was seeded 32nd, but went on a six-match tear, knocking off the 2nd and 7th seeds along the way.  This was the only national championship of the academic year, but not the calendar year....

#3 - Men's soccer adds a seventh star

UVA was only the 16 seed in the tournament.  They were 111th in the country in goals per game.  They didn't have the firepower you'd want out of a dominant team - much less than the women had.  So George Gelnovatch changed up the strategy.  He set up a Maginot Line and sent the team to work.  UVA scored more than a single goal just once during the NCAA tournament, and twice went to penalty kicks.  Championship opponent UCLA (Bruin soccer fans must've gotten pretty tired of UVA by the end there) was the more talented team, but UVA dominated the play by swarming, bunkering down and turning back every attempt at the goal.  The announcers complained, UCLA's coach complained, but it was UVA putting the star on the crest after Riggs Lennon slammed the final penalty kick right down the middle.

#2 - ACC champs in Greensboro

It's never easy when Duke is involved.  But it does make it sweeter.  The Hoos put the cap on a truly magical ACC season by frustrating the Dookies in front of what should've been a partisan Duke crowd and instead was mostly wearing orange.  Akil Mitchell shut down future NBAer Jabari Parker - yes, Parker scored 23 points, but shot 9-for-24.  Coach K managed a technical for throwing a magic marker - perhaps a sign that Duke's special status was wearing off.  Grabbing bragging rights and ownership of the ACC for a season - it'll last forever, immortalized on a JPJA banner.  Later that day, the Hoos would learn they earned a 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.  So why isn't this the best of the best?

#1 - Thomas Rogers hits a three

Because championships are designed to last forever.  But when something so mundane achieves the same immortality, it's more special yet.  The blowout win over Syracuse cemented the regular season ACC title, which is nice, but what it did was give the crowd at the JPJ an excuse to sound like a jet engine.  The game was tied at 42 - then UVA poured it on and poured it in and the crowd, already loud in exhortation, got even louder in celebration.  Dickie V got himself all fired up.  The players had to pry the smiles off their faces in between the whistles.  Tony Bennett was the only stone face in the house (the Cuse faces were droopy), but his glistening eyes betrayed him anyway.  Senior Day at UVA was already the biggest party UVA athletics has seen in decades.

Tony Bennett called time-out to give Joe Harris a moment and to give the bench a little taste of the fun.  Harris hugged everyone on his way off the court and the crowd gave him as much of a cheer as they'd been giving for the last five minutes, which was a lot.  (In the post-game interview, one of the exceedingly rare interesting ones, Tony would frame the moment perfectly as something that Harris, and his senior class, had set out to achieve from day one.)  It looked like the perfect finish.  But the players didn't sit down as play resumed - not one of them.  Maybe they knew.

It was handy, then, not having to leap out of their seats when "the other senior" - the walk-on, the guy you clapped politely for during the pre-game festivities - scored three points.  They were the most meaningless three points of maybe the whole season and still the roof blew off and landed in Crozet and you'd think from watching his teammates that it was the national championship.  As explosively loud as it was in the arena, nobody was yelling louder than the guys in uniform.  Storybook.  UVA might win a national title under Tony Bennett and even that might not match what happened that day - because for all the One Shining Moment maudlinism that the networks put on, it'll be hard to match that three-pointer for What It's Really About.

Your move, 2015.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

the recruit: Olamide Zaccheaus

Name: Olamide Zaccheaus
Position: RB
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
School: St. Joseph's Prep
Height: 5'8"
Weight: 195

24/7: 87, three stars; #54 ATH, PA #14
ESPN: 78, three stars; #70 RB, PA #10, East #83
Rivals: 5.5, three stars; PA #30
Scout: three stars; #93 RB

Other offers: Miami, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Ohio, Temple, Old Dominion

First of all, the tricky part: it's pronounced oh-LAH-ma-day za-KEY-us.  With that covered, let's see what we can do about a scouting report.

The most obvious thing that jumps out of any page on Zacchaeus is his size.  At 5'8", he definitely qualifies as a small running back, and I'm tempted to not believe the 185-195 pound range where he's listed, too.  No big change there for the UVA roster; the Hoos are graduating two other 5'8" backs in Kevin Parks and Khalek Shepherd.  Zaccheaus, however, looks smaller than either, in girth more than anything.  Parks is much more of a bruiser; Shepherd is a much better comparison.

That said, announcers did tend to really like the cliche about getting lost in the pile when talking about Parks, and if they liked it about him, they'll love it about Zaccheaus.  Huge pet peeve of mine: When a runner meets a defender in the open field and stops short, apparently thinking himself an all-world juker, ready to dazzle the world with the Barry Sanders moves he's about to unleash, and gets tackled from behind.  Or tackled by the defender, who's a lot more athletic than the high school mooks the runner is used to.  Bonus points if the ballcarrier stops just short of the first down and leaves his team with 4th and 1.  Zaccheaus doesn't really have that problem.  His style looks to be a lot more straight ahead, preferring to cut rather than juke, and generally always moving forward.  And he's expert at getting through the trash, and going through rather than trying to go around a scrum. Or at least, that's what happened in the successful runs that became the highlight videos.  There's probably a lesson there.

At any rate, I think it's much smarter running than trying to be Mr. Flash.  Our running game this year wouldn't have been nearly as successful if we didn't have backs who took what was there by going straight forward.  Zaccheaus is reasonably quick and has a pretty good ability to maintain his speed while cutting and changing direction.

There's quite a disparity in his guru ratings.  ESPN and 24/7 think he's one of the better players in Pennsylvania and among the top recruits in our class.  Scout and Rivals - far less enthusiastic.  Size probably has something to do with it, and if so, I don't care.  Running back is probably the position where size matters least.  Most important, I think, is instinct, and ability to find the right path downfield.  Competitiveness and attitude help too, more so, I think, than physical attributes.  None of this can be judged too well from the highlights.  As best I can tell, all of those things trend in the right direction for Zaccheaus, but it's hard to tell unless you watch game in and game out and not the handpicked highlight plays.

I'm inclined to lean toward the more positive rankings.  Part of that is a bias toward running backs in general - it's my favorite position on the field and I always want the incoming guys to be the next (insert fun-to-watch RB of choice here.)  But Zaccheaus has a few legit offers, which says to me he'd have more if he weren't short - too many coaches shy away from that kind of thing.  And if he'd hit a few camps; I can't find any evidence of him doing so.  And he's got some football instinct as well - he picked off a pass in the state championship game to seal a second straight title for his St. Joseph's team.

So I think there's a reasonable chance UVA has a bit of a find.  Plus it's about 50/50 as to whether he redshirts, I'd say.  Most of UVA's production at RB is graduating, leaving pretty much just Taquan Mizzell behind.  Daniel Hamm is the most experienced back left, after him; LaChaston Smith has been buried the last two years and Jordan Ellis just redshirted.  Zaccheaus could work his way into that mix, or he could find a role as a kick returner.  We know so little about the options behind Mizzell that it's close to impossible to predict how soon Zaccheaus will see the field - but an optimistic view is the best bet.

Monday, December 22, 2014

crimson fried




Can we all agree that that was bonkers?  I think we can agree that that was bonkers.  London Perrantes sank a pair of free throws, and just over four minutes into the game the score was 11-2, which is officially lopsided.  From then on it was never anything but.  24-4.  39-6.  51-12.  61-19.  The game delved into the realms of the absurd even before then, with Mike Tobey doing all of the scoring without really caring where he had to do it from.

This team - this defense - has turned into a traveling carnival.  Come see the magnificent Antonio Bennettio!  Watch as he performs incredible feats of strength and defensive prowess.  See his amazing illusions.  Watch as he and his assistants hold yet another team under 30 points.  Marvel as they allow just one field goal in a half.  Who will be their next victim?  Step inside the tent and find out!

You can have your Kentucky-UCLA - this is the blowout of the year.  The uneducated rabble will look at the John Wooden pedigree of one team and the Ivy League pedigree of the other and assume otherwise.  But Harvard, before the two blowouts, was the higher-ranked KenPom team.  Wesley Saunders is a more dangerous player than anyone UCLA has.  UCLA was able to fight back some, being outscored by only five in the second half, and not against the Kentucky scrubs, either - the last UK point was scored by Aaron Harrison, the Cats' leading scorer.  Besides, Kentucky allowed three times as many baskets in the first half as UVA did.  So.

Speaking of Harvard being good - check out their D-rating on KenPom.  91.1 - good for #26 in the country.  That's a damn good score that would've been 7th at the end of last season (early-season ratings are always a little more extreme as blowouts are tough to come by in conference play.)  That's the same defense on which UVA just scored nearly 1.3 points per possession.  And that 91.1 is the post-blowout number.

The Hoos have all the fingerprints of an elite, Final Four-contending team, except for a blue-blood name on the jersey front.  They've handled all comers with at worst minor difficulties.  They've gone into any gym they liked and walked out with a big win.  They've bombed really good teams back to the Stone Age.  They have a pair of elite star players - Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill check in at #3 and #4, respectively, on KenPom's POY rankings, behind only Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor and ahead of everyone on the rosters of Kentucky, Louisville, and Arizona.  These Hoos have one game left in the OOC and regardless of the outcome, they've built a top-notch resume already and are almost certain to plow through the ACC with a ruthlessness not seen since.... uh, last year.  Being able to score the way they have is kinda new, and it's letting us recapture some of the wide-eyed wonder from last season, but this team is also, somehow, even better at keeping the ball out of the basket than they were last year.  Fiat Defensio.

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-- Cleveland State got off easy, getting beat by a very workmanlike effort from the Hoos.  I took nothing away from that game except this: Anthony Gill wiped away any last vestiges of doubt that he could fully replace Akil Mitchell with a second-half sequence where he hedged hard, about 30 feet from the basket, and recovered all the way under the rim in time contest the eventual shot.  I thought he blocked it at first, but on replay, it was just a two-foot airball.  Still impressive.  Gill is just fine in the learn-the-defense department, I think.

-- Mike Tobey also impressed on defense.  Particularly on one play against Cleveland State in which his man caught the ball very deep in the post and looked ready for a simple layup - and Tobey, somehow, cajoled him into something resembling a monkey rodeo.  Tobey admitted culpability for the one Harvard bucket in the first half, but whatev - that was actually a really well-contested basket.

-- Merry Christmas.  Nothing is happening until next Tuesday, so rather than a regular Monday post, I'll probably work in some smaller other stuff in between, maybe work on those highlights I keep putting off.  Possibly, for giggles, a preview of Davidson.

Monday, December 15, 2014

twenty-one

National champ-peen-ship, y'all.  I'm long since on the record as admitting I don't get around to watching nearly as much UVA soccer as I'd like.  (I've considered remedying this next year by ignoring football, but that'd be all talk and no action on that front.)  In fact this season I've seen exactly two soccer games: the women's semifinal against Texas A&M and the men's national title against UCLA.  I had to miss the men's semis and women's finals for reasons of State.

It didn't take me long to decide I hated the announcers.  I wasn't even paying attention to them in the A&M game so I have no idea, but it was only about 20 minutes into the UCLA game before I decided the announcing was a zero on a scale of Pam Ward to Keith Jackson.  Their contempt for UVA's game plan was plain as day and got plainer as the first half wore on.  Although I did enjoy their description of the UVA strategy as "cynical."

Guess which strategy UVA went with?

You can't totally fault them, if the idea is that games should always be exciting shootouts.  But UVA came into the game 111th in the country in scoring average.  One-hundred and eleventh, it's not an extra-1 typo.  In only one tournament game did the Hoos score more than once.  UCLA came in with only one tournament game of fewer than three goals.  So it should be no surprise that Gelnovatch decided not to run 'n' gun with the Bruins.  "The beautiful game" it was not, but Gelnovatch isn't paid to entertain the pundits.

And frankly, it worked to almost complete perfection.  Actual perfection would've been a 1-0 win with the one goal probably coming off of some kind of set piece.  You don't counterattack to try and score, because that would expose you; you counterattack with the aim of getting a corner kick.  If it doesn't go in, which it usually doesn't but it's more than worth a try, bunker back down and try again.  I laughed when halftime rolled around and the announcers said UCLA had to be very pleased with the first half and then both coaches said the first 45 went completely UVA's way.  I might've considered it a Bruin domination, if UCLA had generated more than the occasional chance, but UVA's keeper Calle Brown was barely tested.  Owning the possession battle 45 yards out is one thing; it's another thing entirely to dictate the game.  UVA did so without having the ball.

The second half - a little more pressure, the Bruins clearly took their coaching to heart and were less patient, more attacking, but also a great deal more frustrated.  UCLA's Edgar Contreras ought to have been red-carded for a head-butt, but I can't completely fault the refs as the camera was right on it in real time and I still missed it until the replay.  But it was a clear sign that UCLA was used to being able to break down a defense, and UVA's brick wall was getting to them.

The game is likely to attract precisely zero new fans to the game of soccer, but just look at all the bothers I give.  You know I love me some pack-line defense, and so, apparently, does George Gelnovatch.  Tony Bennett wins basketball games 45-26, but he wins basketball games.  At the end of the day, here's the stat that matters most: 21.  And the one that matters second-most is 0.

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The first major bit of football attrition hit last week when Eli Harold declared for the draft.  That makes two; David Watford also decided to transfer, but the effect of that will be almost nil.  Except to eliminate bizarre message board posts wondering why he's on the field in any capacity at all, as if not being a good quarterback is the same as not being a good receiver.

UVA dodged a bullet when Max Valles announced that he'd be returning next year, quashing rumors to the contrary.  Smart - Valles would've been going almost entirely on physical attributes.  A year of opening some scouts' eyes would help him.  Harold, though he could benefit from another year, is probably in good shape anyway.  He showed this year that he can defend the run and isn't just a one-dimensional pass rusher.  Once he gets in front of scouts at the combine, he should make an appearance on draft boards and could easily be a second or third round pick; his ceiling, if the workouts look good, would be the low first.

As for our defense, it's a fairly major hit, but there's a long-run silver lining: next year, Harold and the Moores (Michael and Kwontie) would once again have dominated the playing time.  Great, because they'll do well, but no experience for the boatload of guys behind them.  Trent Corney should start off as the third DE, but there's a trio of redshirt freshmen who will get a chance to make a wave or two as well.

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And the second major bit of football attrition is on the coaching staff, as Scott Wachenheim is off to VMI to play head coach.  Good for him - it's his first head-coaching gig, though he did have the title of OC and assistant HC at Liberty for a few years.  There can't be a tougher place in the world to win at football than VMI, except maybe the Citadel.  From his perspective, this is definitely striking while the iron is hot - the chances that most of this staff is out of a job next year are awfully high, and you might as well grab a promotion while it's there.  Even if London was on rock-solid ground, I think he'd go anyway, but still.

Wachenheim leaves with one of the most mixed legacies I've ever seen for an assistant coach.  He was vilified at times for the play of the O-line, and I think at least partially deservedly so.  But he leaves on a positive note, having gained a lot of credit for making the O-line not be a total black hole of suck despite being held together with Scotch tape and having to use 260-pound converted DE (or TE or whatever) Jack English as a left tackle.  And I think also deservedly so.

It leaves UVA with two openings to fill, including the impending (or already-occurred) retirement of Tom O'Brien, whose UVA career was basically a dud.  There's an inexplicable level of support for Ron Mattes, who was here like, a year, and performed no miracles.  He'll be here as soon as Bill Musgrave comes back, I'm sure.  A much more likely name, and these tea leaves sure read awfully clearly, thanks to Streaking the Lawn's Tweety account, is current Edmonton Eskimos O-line coach Jonathan Himebauch.

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For lack of anything to do in this basketball wilderness, I put together another season sim, since it had been a couple weeks and stuff happened.  You can find it below and on the original season sim post, for easier comparison to the previous version.


NC State and Notre Dame are on the rise; both won an early-season ACC game against Wake and FSU, respectively, and ND has been handling a lot of business as well.  NC State, not so much, but then, Wofford is actually awfully highly-ranked for a SoCon team.

Being as UVA has also been handling business, the Hoos leapfrogged Louisville, which itself didn't exactly fare badly, just not as well as UVA.  Maryland and VCU are both higher-ranked than all but five ACC teams, and UVA crushed both on the road.  It's becoming clear that there's a top three in this league, and as such, the race for the top seed has obvious huge implications.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

the recruit: C.J. Stalker

Name: C.J. Stalker
Position: LB
Hometown: West Chester, OH
School: Lakota West
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 225

24/7: 88, three stars; #17 ILB, OH #21
ESPN: 76, three stars; #78 OLB, OH #37, Midwest #87
Rivals: 5.8, four stars; #12 ILB, OH #14
Scout: three stars; #40 ILB

Other offers: West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Massachusetts

To be brutally honest, the spring and summer parade of commitments that almost nobody else had recruited was getting a little worrisome.  It's not much of a way to build a team, and besides, it takes a lot of the fun out of following recruiting.  C.J. Stalker got all that nice and fixed.  From the Cincinnati area, and pursued by most teams in the region, Stalker ended up picking basically the furthest-away (serious) candidate for his services.  And UVA finally gets a linebacker out of Cincinnati after striking out a time or two in the past.

There's a lot of disagreement as to what Stalker's strengths and weaknesses are, which is a bit odd for someone who's been recruited fairly widely.  ESPN says he needs to add strength and bulk.  Rivals called him "big and musclebound."  Most of the services have him as an MLB; ESPN says he's a strong-side guy.  24/7's Jamie Oakes adds extremely admiring words for his football smarts.

This last is believable given Stalker's chosen major: pre-med.  "I want to be an orthopedic surgeon" is something not heard out of many footballr recruits.  To that end, Stalker is enrolling early, joining Grant Polk in that regard.  Early enrollment doesn't guarantee anything in terms of playing time, but in Stalker's case, one wonders.  Thing is, Rivals's assessment of Stalker's stature makes a lot more sense; he looks almost ready to burst out of those already absurdly tight football camp t-shirts.  He probably could add muscle, but he already looks close to college-ready, and that's from this past summer.

Similarly, I think he could play Sam, but then, a smart, high-IQ MLB is priceless for a defense, and since most sources seem to think he's a Mike, I'm forced to agree.  Especially since ESPN's report is kind of contradictory at times.  Your heir apparent at MLB is Micah Kiser, who hasn't seen a lot of field time; this is mainly the fault of Henry Coley, who was more or less indispensible.  But while the LB depth chart looks pretty well filled out, it's mostly full of outside backers.  The three we picked up last year aren't middle guys by any stretch, or at least, they didn't look like it when they came in.  Unless one of them has picked up some new skills, there's not much (other than possibly Jahvoni Simmons, who seems like he could play anywhere) standing between Kiser and Stalker.  Stalker appears close to the field already, physically, and his early enrollment will jump-start his career.  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him pushing very hard for playing time right away; he's one of the least likely redshirts in the class.

Monday, December 8, 2014

yearly ordeal

Final Exam Wilderness Journal: Day 2, 8:23 PM - Rations high but spirits already running low.  The prospect of another ten days in this bleak and uninviting terrain has the entire party depressed.  It was thought a brief soccer interlude might raise spirits enough to last the entire journey, but this proved futile.  Scouts report another potential soccer interlude approximately a week's march away, but much of the party is apprehensive, as nobody knows how long it might last or whether it will even provide any relief.  For the next week, however, we have no choice but to trudge on.

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Yes, it's that time of year, and it's a little meaner this year than usual.  UVA just finished two very entertaining basketball games in hostile environments, the kind of games that leave you wishing the next one was tomorrow, and instead we gotta wait while the players fill in blue books and scantrons.  The perils of rooting for a school that behaves as a school.

As it turns out, I could easily have waited til after the VCU game to write anything about basketball, because it wasn't too far off a carbon copy of the Maryland one.  UVA held the Havoc-ing Rams to 61 possessions, nine fewer than their usual average of 70.  That actually means the game was 18 possessions shorter than the usual VCU contest.  It's unsurprising that UVA would have more turnovers than usual against VCU, but the clash of styles is a UVA win when the possessions are a lot closer to UVA's average.

If, as I've said, each year's team takes on a new identity of its own, perhaps this year's is the newfound confidence this team exudes.  Twice now the Hoos have gone into enemy gyms, neither of them easy environments, and played as if the place was empty.  Even when Cavalanching hapless opponents last year, they didn't look quite as sure of themselves - it was as if the reason they were excitedly piling on the points was that they weren't sure when they'd get a chance to again.  This year, they play like they know what they can do.  Under a lesser coach this kind of confidence could get out of hand.  Some teams, once they get to this point, look as if they don't mind losing because they assume it'll get fixed in the end, and look surprised when the clock runs out before that happens.

Tony Bennett, on the other hand, pushes a button and that's the end of whatever little run the opponent is making.  UVA saw a double-digit lead erode to four, Tony called time-out, and in just over three minutes it was back up to fourteen again and the game was for all intents and purposes over.  But of course it's more than that - Tony's mantra this offseason ("always thankful, never satisfied") is coming through loud and clear on the court.  This team has no flashy five-star guys, no burger boyz, nobody who got a world of attention for not going to the NBA.**  They're just a bunch of dudes playing ball.  They're still KenPom's #3 team in his rankings, the best team in the country not named Duke or Kentucky.  At this point in the season, I'll take it.

**This could certainly change once Justin Anderson starts getting credit commensurate with his play.  KenPom has him as the 8th best player in the country right now.  It's hard to imagine he can keep shooting .588 from three, but still - he's all over the court, he maintains a very low turnover rate, he makes nice passes, and he's clearly embracing the role of upperclassman and scorer.

-- It's awfully interesting watching the various free throw routines that these guys have developed, mostly over this past summer.  Anthony Gill is the only guy I've ever seen who points his feet sideways.  I keep waiting for the spin to go wrong on Mike Tobey's flip, and the ball go rolling at the ref.  And Anderson's dispensed with the dribble entirely.  But mostly I'm enjoying watching the ball actually go in.

-- The rotation twists and turns took an interesting direction against VCU; Marial Shayok saw just five minutes, Isaiah Wilkins none at all, and Devon Hall, who'd played 1, 2, and 5 minutes the previous three games, got in for 15.  Looked pretty good, too.

-- A few of next year's OOC matchups are already coming out; UVA will play in the 2015 Charleston Classic, a perfectly solid tournament in a great location (not least because UVA is the closest school to the event.)  Oklahoma State seems to be the other marquee team in the event, but actually it's Seton Hall that might deserve the most attention.  The Pirates have several former UVA recruiting targets (Sterling Gibbs, Jaren Sina, Angel Delgado) and an up-and-coming team.  UVA will also head to Madison Square Garden to play West Virginia.  There's also the other end of the home-and-home with George Washington, plus of course a guaranteed Big Ten game (probably Maryland again, knowing our luck.)  I highly approve so far.  It might be nice at some point to take on a Kentucky or a Kansas, but I don't find the OOC schedule lacking without them.

-- Tremendous shame that Morgan Brian's career at UVA ends without a national title.  It would've been more than fitting.

-- The men, though, get their crack in the College Cup next weekend.  UMBC is the surprising opponent, having personally dispatched three of the four seeded teams in their bracket.